Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown on August 9, 2014.
In response, the black citizens of Ferguson marched and protested against what they knew to be one of many instances where the lives of African-Americans were devalued by the police in that community. Their exhalation of frustration and righteous anger was echoed by protests across the
with slogans like “black lives matter” and “hands up, don’t shoot”.
Ferguson police responded
to the people’s protests in Ferguson
by rioting against the black community.
Subsequent to those events, The Department of Justice issued two reports.
One demonstrated how the police in Ferguson routinely violated the civil rights of black people, the courts were biased against non-whites, and together they acted like a de facto KKK chapter of street pirates who personally enriched themselves through a debt peonage racket scheme that looted the wallets and purses of African-Americans.
The Department of Justice’s other report detailed how federal civil rights violations would not be brought against Darren Wilson because it would be difficult if not impossible to disprove that he was not in “reasonable fear” for his life during the encounter with Michael Brown.
American conservatives have—with few exceptions—fixated on the Department of Justice report “exonerating” Darren Wilson for his killing of Michael Brown.
Liberals and progressives have tended to emphasize the Department of Justice report on the
police department and courts’ white supremacist practices.
In response to the latter, last week The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart wrote a much discussed editorial entitled “’Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ was Built on a Lie”.
Capehart is also incorrect.
“Hands up, don’t shoot” is built on the truth.
As a people, Black Americans are not child-like, naïve, foolish, or hyper-emotional.
Black people are not crazy. Nor, have black folks in America been easily hoodwinked, bamboozled, or tricked as they worked with remarkable sophistication to force the United States to live up to its (still unfulfilled) democratic potential.
The colorline is beset by many paradoxes.
Race is a biological fiction and a social construct; race continues to over-determine life chances in the
United States and elsewhere.
States was founded as an ostensibly
“democratic” nation; Yet, its
understanding of freedom was based on denying full rights and liberties to
The Framers offered a radically democratic experiment in the United States Constitution; The Framers also owned black people as human property and penned a Constitution that was pro-Southern and pro-slavery.
In the Age of Obama all black Americans are Michael Brown; in the Age of Obama all Black Americas are most certainly not Michael Brown.
Of course, black Americans are not a hive mind of undifferentiated blackness as the White Gaze so often imagines them. Nor, are black folks magically interconnected, constituting some type of impulse driven automaton known as “the Black Experience” or “Black America”.
Black Americans are individuals—just like any other group. But, the life chances of African-Americans remain profoundly racialized in the present.
As such, Michael Brown is a symbol of police brutality and racism: the particular details of his fatal interaction with Darren Wilson are relatively unimportant.
“Hands up, Don’t Shoot” and “Black Lives Matter” are effective slogans because they channel the lived experiences of black Americans. If they did not speak to some fundamental truth, those words would not have captured (and continue to) the political imaginations of millions of people around the world.
When young black men and boys are given “the talk” about how not to get killed by the police for the “crime” of being black and male, they are Michael Brown.
The repeated findings by social scientists and other researchers that police are more likely to shoot and kill unarmed black people as compared to whites is empirical evidence for how black folks in
America are all Michael Brown.
The recorded on video murder of Eric Garner by the New York Police Department as he pleaded for his life was a moment when all black Americans are Michael Brown.
The necropolis of black people shot and killed by the police under dubious circumstances is a reminder that almost any Black American can at any time be transformed into Michael Brown.
The fear that many black Americans have that a routine interaction with the police can result in the former being shot and murdered, usually with impunity, is an example of how the shadow of Michael Brown hangs over Black America’s collective memory and collective consciousness.
Names such as Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown all commingle in an American horror story that goes back to the lynching tree and how the black American body politic has for centuries been made to suffer under white violence.
Niggerization, to borrow from Dr. Cornel West, is a state of feeling unwanted, unsafe, and unprotected. This is one of the existential dilemmas of blackness in the West. If black folks are indeed a “blues people”, then “niggerization” is one of the drums. “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” and “Black Lives Matter” channel that sentiment and give it cadence through voice and slogan.
And the videotaped shootings of black people, who were unarmed, surrendering, and with their hands up by police is the ultimate proof --the habeas corpus in extremis--that “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” is not a lie.
A person’s truth-telling should not be held hostage to political convenience. However, as an African-American journalist at one of the nation’s leading publications, Jonathan Capehart has an added obligation to reflect on how his speech and words may be used by those who stand against the long Black Freedom Struggle.
Capehart has chosen to play the martyr figure by offering up what he sees as an uncomfortable truth about Michael Brown and the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement.
In his “’Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ was Built on a Lie”, Jonathan Capehart tried to offer some qualifiers about the broader context of Ferguson and its police, and his understanding of why that slogan resonated with black and brown people in the United States.
There, Capehart is left with a basic problem: those who are most excited by his act of black martyrdom are white conservatives.
However, in the post civil rights era American conservatives have been on the wrong side of history relative to almost every issue of racial justice.
With “’Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ was Built on a Lie”, Jonathan Capehart chose to turn himself into chum, and then to throw himself into the water with sharks.
“Hands up Don’t Shoot” is the truth. Those black Americans who know this fact will be reluctant to save Jonathan Capehart as he screams for help when his new white conservative fans of convenience inevitably betray him.
Capehart is receiving praise from the White Right for being a “black journalist” with the “courage” to “tell the truth” about Michael Brown and
This is a false honor and fool’s gold.